Saturday, January 25, 2014

A faithful guide to philosophy (book)

A faithful guide to philosophyA faithful guide to philosophy by Peter S. Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book description: A Faithful Guide to Philosophy is the only British Christian introduction to Philosophy, a book that will be used as a course textbook and by church study groups and individual readers alike. It covers subjects of central importance to the Christian worldview - the relationship between faith and reason, the objective reality or truth, goodness and beauty, the existence and nature of God, the existence of the human soul and of free will, and so on - from a philosophical viewpoint. This is the broadest range of topics covered by any Christian introduction to Philosophy and will be prized by many.

My review: This is an excellent introduction to some philosophical questions from a Christian perspective. The first section of the book discusses what philosophy is, its relationship to faith, and how to make good and bad arguments. Following sections examine some arguments for God; explore the philosophy of mind (one of the most intractable problems in philosophy!); the objectivity (or otherwise) of beauty and its relationship to divinity; the relationship between science and theology; and the problem of evil.

While the book comes from a Christian perspective, it's a must-read for anyone interested in the above topics. Williams engages in a scholarly way with the so-called 'new atheists' along with other scholars - both atheist and theist and draws on a wide range of literature in discussing all the issues in the book. He is an expert on logical argumentation and, all the way through the book, maps out and explores arguments for and against various positions with the ability to critique arguments on both sides of debate for their validity and soundness.

The recommended resources in the book are astounding. For each chapter there are online videos, articles, and books to follow up if you're interested. In addition to the chapter-by-chapter resources there is a section at the back of the book recommending material on philosophy, religion including websites, video, audio. The endnotes for each chapter are remarkably detailed.

Williams is completely transparent about where he is coming from. In the first paragraph of the Introduction Williams states that the:

... book offers a 'faithful guide to philosophy' both in the sense that I seek to present my subject accurately and that I write as a philosopher who follows Jesus of Nazareth.

In my opinion both of these objectives are achieved. It's a rigorous, respectful, engaging, and scholarly approach to the questions it covers. An excellent book!

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The Wolf of Wall Street (movie)

Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a stunning portrayal of a man who is so rich that he can live in any way he wishes - sex, drugs, boats, drugs, cars, drugs, houses - did I mention drugs? For three hours we are taken on the frenetic, mesmerising journey of a horrible but extremely persuasive man that sucked thousands of poor people dry of their money and spent it on himself. It is difficult to describe the absolute decadence of the lifestyle of this self-centred, hedonistic, true-life stockbroker who defrauded countless victims and lived to get away with it (he served only nearly two years in prison after providing the names of many of his associates to the FBI). Leonardo DiCaprio is riveting as Jordan Belfort. His presence on the screen is awesome from the opening scene (which I won't describe here). The story of Belfort (based on his own memoir) ploughs on like an unstoppable train and is completely over the top in its excess and debauchery. There are some very funny moments which catch you by surprise - surprise that you can be laughing at such outrageous and antisocial behaviour. The cinematography is brilliant and emulates the dizzying frenzy of people out of control.

But what does all this mean? Why tell this story? It's hard to know. There has been considerable controversy surrounding this movie. Some have argued that the movie is essentially promoting rather than criticising the lifestyle of Belfort - glorifying excess, greed, the objectification of women, drug use. Belfort never suffers any serious consequences for his crimes or his lifestyle. According to some, the movie seems to celebrate rather than condemn.

However, by the end of the movie we feel as though we have vicariously experienced the gluttony and excessive that it raises serious questions about the ethics of such a lifestyle. There's a powerful scene near the beginning of the movie where an employee of Belfort's brokering company humiliates herself by allowing her head to be shaved just to get $10,000. Money is everything and the vulnerable are abused and trampled on as if they are mere objects in the pursuit of riches.

Another telling moment is when Jordan Belfort's life is threatened during a storm while he's travelling on his yacht. He is desperate to find drugs to deaden the reality of what is happening and shouts, ’I am not gonna die sober!’ There seems to be a frantic panic underneath this exclamation as if, in that moment, the vacuity of his life becomes evident - at least that's my reading of the moment. It's as if a glimmer of reality broke through even if it was extinguished immediately.

Finally, throughout the movie, we never see any of the victims. It's as if they don't exist. And clearly, for Belfort, they don't. Humans are merely a means to an end. There are clearly some people who practice unethically, engage in criminal activity, all with impunity and without consequences. Belfort was obviously one of these.

But there's something fundamentally uncomfortable about all this. And that discomfort rescues this film from being a celebration of Belfort's life. Instead it's like those parents who taught the horror of smoking by forcing their kids to smoke a whole cigar until they were sick; or like chocolate factories who let their employees gorge themselves on chocolate until they can't eat anymore and they stop. Consuming this movie will make you feel bloated with excess and you'll recognise that ancient saying that the love of money is the root of all evil.

WARNING: This movie is R rated in Australia and the US. Believe the rating! There is explicit sex, drug use, and adult themes - and lots of them.

overall=**** ; acting=***** ; story=**** ; humour=**** ; soundtrack=*** ; cinematography=****

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


There was so many good movies released during 2013 ( and many not-so-good!). Here's my list of the best movies in 2013. I've listed all those I rated 4 stars or more. Keep your eye out for them as they come to a cinema near you or released on DVD.


Absolutely brilliant! The best crime drama this year. It's very intense and totally engaging. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are excellent with complex performances of complex characters. In fact, one of the great things about this movie is that the effects of the two girls' kidnapping on the community, and these two main characters in particular, are just as significant as the solving of the crime. The story is superbly told and, while it's a long film, it grips and won't let go. It's disturbing and and pulls no punches - it's not for the squeamish! The script is superb and avoids outlandish tricks. The case unfolds naturally and inexorably. There's also a complex ethical layer to the story that deepens the fascination. THE PRISONERS is at times very hard to watch. But it's extremely compelling. True adult drama that is intelligent and satisfying. A much watch movie!

One of the best end-of-the-world movies I've ever seen! It packs a real emotional punch. I saw it at the Adelaide Film Festival and there was complete silence as the credits started to roll. What makes this new Australian movie so good is its focus on real people and how they might choose to use their last remaining hours alive. We see these final events through the eyes of an adult and a child (played by Nathan Philips and brilliant newcomer child-actor Angourie Rice). It's a deeply humanising script that stares in the face of finality without flinching. The movie is painted on a large apocalyptic canvas that recedes into the background as our attention is focused where it should be - on real people and their relationships. The movie grapples with universal issues of life and death, love, meaning and what we value when everything is about to cease existing. Very thought-provoking and emotionally moving. The movie will be released in the first half of 2014. Don't miss it when it hits a screen near you!



I loved this movie! Very very entertaining. The start of the movie had me on the edge of my seat almost immediately and didn't let up for the full two hours. Great story, amazing cinematography, special effects are top-notch, 3D excellent, direction spot on, and the zombies are very believable. While not quite up there with District 9 it comes close. Some good character development, brilliant suspense - just all round great movie. Go see it!


unpredictable. The cinematography and special effects are outstanding and Sandra Bullock and George Clooney bring great characters to the terrifying possibility of bring stranded in space completely alone. My only criticism is that the use of such well known celebrity actors undermines the "reality" of the situation. It would have had greater authenticity with unknowns. Otherwise this is an excellent 90 mins of tense entertainment. I predict some awards for this one. Make sure you see it in 3D!


A very good message about the power of love to thaw frozen hearts. In the style of the great Disney classics - great animation, enjoyable songs and music, great humour and a wonderful reindeer who steals the scenes he's in. thoroughly enjoyable and heart warming. One for the whole family.

This was surprisingly good. It's set in some unspecified period during a developing World War III in Britain and focuses around a group of children surviving without their adult guardians. Saoirse Ronan is captivating as the surly cousin from America who is visiting under protest. In fact, most of the movie has no adults on screen and the kids really hold their own with natural acting. There are some strong themes here and no punches are pulled as the plot twists and turns. It's an adaptation of a young adult novel but rewards the adult viewer as well.

I loved it. Gave 3 stars for acting overall but Jennifer Lawrence is my top most favorite actor at the moment. She is so good!

An excellent, intelligent crime story set in a small country town where an Aboriginal detective pursues a case against a hostile community - his own.

This is a shocking story of an unnecessary act of brutality by police on a young 22 year old black man in 2008 at Fruitvale Station - hence the name of the movie. The story follows him on the last day of 2008 - his family, people he meets, his struggle to survive. The disturbing aspect of the story is the lack of true justice done in dealing with the police following the violence.The acting is excellent - natural and moving. It's only 90 minutes long - which is good - as it moves quickly and inexorably to it tragic conclusion. If you are looking for something with depth and significance check this out.

Thoroughly entertaining with a reasonable story. Acting is adequate - I particularly like Tom Hiddleston as Loki who brings a sinister flavour to the whole movie. More than anything, though, it's the special 3D effects that engross with plenty of action and some cliffhanging suspense. Not sure how it will go on the small screen so check it out in the cinema if you can. Don't expect anything too deep and escape for a couple of hours.

Tom Hanks and Barkhad are excellent as captain and modern-day pirate in this satisfyingly tense thriller based on a true story. The narrative is simple with the depth of the movie around the characters and the choices they have to face. One good thing about the story is that the complex reasons for the piracy are presented - not as an excuse but as a way to understand why the crime of piracy is still committed today. The photography and direction are excellent - but be warned that a lot of the movie uses handheld cameras to increase the effect of the events being on the ocean. The person seeing it with me had to leave half way through due to motion sickness! It's a great story of human drama with a thrilling ending. Go see it on the big screen!

Exquisite black and white silent movie (made in 2012) that revisions the Snow White story. Set in 1920 Seville and constructed around bullfighting, it's an absolute delight to watch. The soundtrack is excellent and the cinematography is very modern while still retaining the style of the old classic black and white era. The actors do a great job emulating the old style acting but the movie doesn't feel old. It's a Spanish movie but, because it is a silent movie it doesn't matter - and the title cards are all in English. If you are looking for something "classical", a bit different, and thoroughly entertaining, check this one out.

To call this movie a romantic comedy (as I have seen done) is to completely misrepresent this movie. While it has some romance and some humorous moments, this is a long way from romantic comedy. It is a quite remarkable story primarily of a number of men who are all struggling with some form of addiction. The majority of the film focuses on sexual addiction but some of the subplots deal with women and other forms of addiction - including those of us who think we don't have any addictions and look judgementally on those who do. It's a powerful exploration that is honest and complex. At times, there are moments of unbelievability but with

Ruffalo and Paltrow teaming up for the central storyline, that doesn't seem to matter. The acting is good and the supporting staff, including an ageing Tim Robbins playing a self-righteous father dealing with a previously difficult son, are great. There is some pretty confronting material here, but it's reassuring to see stories of vulnerable, struggling men balancing out the constant macho images we often see in cinema. I highly recommend this movie and perhaps we can all improve our understanding of those who secretly struggle with potent forces in our psyches and, more than that, acknowledge that we are all flawed - even though we might not find it easy to admit it.

There are three really good things about this movie. Firstly, the cinematography is excellent. To recreate Formula 1 races on the screen that are representative real historical races would be very challenging and it's pulled off in a way which is completely authentic and totally engaging. Secondly, Ron Howard's direction is brilliant. And thirdly, Daniel Bruhl and Chris Hemsworth deliver nuanced performances as the relationship between James Hunt and Niki Lauder develops over the years. If you are a "petrol head" you will love this movie. And even if you are not, the story is interesting as we see two very different personalities deal with each other and the challenges of high speed car racing. A very enjoyable piece of entertainment that has quite a bit to say about to essentially different ways of living life - lessons we can all reflect on.

Typical Woody Allen film - very dialogue driven which if fast and witty. The narrative takes place as we jump from the present to flash backs leading up to the present. Cate Blanchett is absolutely brilliant - this is possibly the best performance of her career so far - and she is onscreen in almost every scene. It's really her movie! The story of how Jasmine becomes who she is is intriguing as it unfolds. It's actually a very serious story but infused with a wry humour that we have come to expect from Woody Allen. I'll be seeing it again because there is so much in the multi-layered events and dialogue. One of the best Woody Allen movies for some time.

Apart from a couple of cheesy moments and some excessive patriotism, a thoroughly enjoyable action movie. Make sure you see it on the big screen!

An intriguing story with an air of mystery. If you love antiques and paintings you'll like all the sets and artwork. At times the story didn't quite ring true but overall was engaging and just good old-fashioned story-telling. Geoffrey Rush is always good value and doesn't fail to deliver. He's got a good supporting cast. If you like some of the old Hitchcock films you'll like this. Good, clean mystery drama.

An amazing action movie. The story is a typical alien invading earth but whatever weaknesses there are in the some-times cheesy story is made up for the absolutely stunning action. And in 3D it's absolutely awesome! You've never seen battles between humans and aliens like this before. The special effects are incredible - and they start from the very first frame. If you want action then make sure you see this on the big screen in 3D!

The critics have been harsh on this one but I think they've got it wrong. I really enjoyed it. The central theme is revenge - its nature, its consequences, and the power of love to change everything. Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace are excellent and, while there is some action, it is their performances that make this movie so good. It has the feel of a European movie at times (the director gave us the Swedish GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) - it takes the time to develop characters and the power of the narrative slowly emerges as more and more is revealed. If you want an intelligent thriller then check this one out.

An intriguing, complex story of fatherhood, friendship, consequences of choices, and masculine emotion. The narrative structure is fresh and ironic taking the viewer in unexpected directions. Gosling and Cooper are excellent as is all the supporting cast. A richly satisfying story that does the rare thing of focusing on male experience with depth and substance. One of the best movies so far this year.

Great entertainment! Robert Downey Jr is excellent as Tony Stark with superb delivery of his humour. The story is reasonable with a very funny surprise twist with one of the characters as everything unfolds. It's great the way the Iron Man series doesn't take itself too seriously and the humour is genuinely witty. There's some great action sequences with stunning special effects and the 3D is top-notch. A pleasure to watch - highly recommended!

An intelligent sci-fi that is visually very pleasing to the eye. Maybe a touch too long but the story is intriguing with some genuine surprises. The acting is pretty average and Tom Cruise is his usual self. But the narrative and cinematography definitely make up for any of his inadequacies. Supporting cast was strong. Plays around with memory and identity which I like. Good on the big screen so worth heading to the cinema to watch it.

A great take on the zombie genre with a life affirming message and the healing power of love and acceptance. Very enjoyable.

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